Sustainable tourism and the EU – Interview with Cinzia de Marzo
Stefan: Can you explain the concept of European Tourism Indicators System?
Cinzia de Marzo: ETIS is a management tool launched within the framework of the EU policy for tourism. We can say that it is a kind of a measurement system. Since sustainable tourism has been recognized as an important segment of tourism development, attention has been dedicated to the creation of a tool which destinations could use to measure and monitor performance on a destination level.
It is a non-binding instrument, voluntary based and can be understood as a sort of guidelines for action. The idea is to deal with sustainability issues on a destination level. It has 43 core indicators which help destinations to be aware of what they do and to better plan their policies, marketing and promotional activities. Since those indicators are the same for all destinations, there is now a need to share and compare the results in terms of benchmarking.
Stefan: More than 100 destinations have participated in pilot phases of ETIS since 2013. What were the main challenges and the most difficult topics for them?
Cinzia: The most common feedback we received from destinations showed us that it was not possible to measure all 43 core indicators, therefore sources of information in some fields were not available. Particularly, this refers to the environmental sector where it is often difficult to measure the results and gather information.
The second point was that often they were facing technical issues, more precisely with qualified human resources. This meant that data assessment was difficult to achieve and analyze properly among all stakeholders – public and private institutions, DMO organizations, etc. Political consensus was sometimes hard to achieve as well, and some destinations were battling to find common ground for all stakeholders and to involve them.
Expectations were another obstacle. Many were expecting more campaign and promotion related activities, and more marketing and visibility through ETIS.
Stefan: You were involved in ETIS from the very beginning. How satisfied are you with its first years and what is your overall experience?
Cinzia: I am very proud of the development of the toolkit, which in the beginning was only a document and then later on developed into something more serious. I understood over time that destinations like to be involved in these processes, so I am satisfied as well with this bottom-up approach and the fact that they felt quite enthusiastic and motivated to participate.
On the other hand, I am sad that the whole concept did not receive the priority and importance it deserved from the (EU) Commission. Although it was a well-known and appreciated concept “outside”, within EU Commission it did not reach high levels of importance and potential. However, I am very glad to see that some results and methodologies are still used and practiced by other institutions and that effects of ETIS could be seen on national, international and European level.
Stefan: Do you follow the development of destinations involved in the pilot phases after implementing ETIS toolkit and do they still practice sustainable approach to tourism? Have they received some certificate?
Cinzia: That’s a really good question because during the period of implementation of ETIS I was constantly involved in all processes and communication with participating destinations. Now that I am not part of the EU Commission anymore it has changed and I am not connected with them so much. However, I am still well connected with the most successful ones in order to understand if there is possibility to establish a network of ETIS destinations and how they can progress and move forward in the future, since that they are interested to capitalize on the previously applied practices. They are also keen to move further towards macro-region organization and eventual entrance into the NecsTour network as an ETIS destinations Committee. Nonetheless, there is still a lot of work to do about it.
Stefan:There are many different types of certificates and tools used nowadays to measure or improve sustainable tourism. Which ones do you find useful and successful?
Cinzia: On the European level there is the EMAS scheme which was around even before ETIS and it is more scientifically oriented and really well structured. They are connected with both public and private sector but have complementarities with ETIS.
Furthermore, there is European Environmental Agency and their mechanism for reporting about environmental tourism. I don’t know if they are already successful or not but I see some similarities. Whether it is public or private institution there are some concepts which are important for both types of initiatives and which they need to apply. Nonetheless, when it is not binding and is voluntary based then it is a lot harder to follow these procedures.
On the other hand, there are some international initiatives as positive examples. In Slovenia, for instance, Ljubljana is combining GSTC with Green Destinations and ETIS and they have realized that actually it is possible to combine different approaches and that it brings advantages. It is challenging, but it is achievable.
Stefan: ETIS – like many other tools – is a non-binding instrument. Do you think that the results or the destination’s approaches would be different if it were binding?
Cinzia: I do not see an advantage from turning something into a binding instrument; rather I see the higher importance of gaining commitment from the political side and from other players involved. Commitment to short and long-term targets, action plans, investments, human resources, etc. This can then be followed by the implementation on both political and institutional levels.
So, I do not think that making an instrument binding is a solution but rather that political actions could place more importance on the actual use of tools, and create conditions and structure for its implementation.
Stefan: Do you think it is possible to find consensus between public and private interests and to work together on one aim?
Cinzia: It is challenging, of course, but it is possible definitely. We have some good examples of destinations from Italy – Sardinia and Abbano Terme. They combined complementarities among universities and public administration where roles, responsibilities and activities were divided between different topics. While universities, which are not always public but private as well, were dealing with data collection and analysis, public bodies were doing marketing, promotion, raising awareness, etc. Private tourism companies are included, too, however the main issue with them is that they often do not recognize long-term benefits and, instead, look for short-term results.
Stefan: In a 2017 report published by Booking.com we can see that people are still ill-informed about the concept of sustainable tourism. Why is it like this?
Cinzia: Because sustainable tourism is still an abstract idea. Many people still do not understand what sustainability is as concept or even the idea of responsibility. That is why we need to work on this and to increase awareness and perception.
Stefan: You mentioned NecsTour and cooperation at regional level. Can we speak about development at the European level without strong regional cooperation?
Cinzia: We have to think about competencies and policy framework. At regional level funds are decided so the region has higher power than destination. However, when activities are delivered and cooperation moves to a vertical approach then we need to focus on the DMO, their role and competences. NecsTour as an organization is very important since that they coordinate different programs and actions and are in charge of funds.
Stefan: You are involved in EUSAIR, one of the projects of regional cooperation in the EU. Tell us more about it and about other regional cooperation in general?
Cinzia: EUSAIR is a European strategy related to the Adriatic-Ionian macro-region in the EU macro-regional framework. Besides that one there are other macro-regional collaborations – Baltic, Alpine and Danube. EUSAIR includes four member states (Italy, Greece, Slovenia and Croatia) and four IPA countries (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania). The main idea of macro-regional cooperation is to develop joint activities, cooperation and capacity building and to work on knowledge transfer from member states to non-EU countries. There are four main pillars of cooperation and one of them is sustainable tourism. The others are blue growth, connectivity and energy and environmental quality.
In terms of sustainable tourism, the focus is on fostering diversification of the tourism offer, fostering innovation and competitiveness of tourism SMEs, and the use of measurement of sustainable performance. Moreover, we support countries to participate in other initiatives of similar kind and to consider other policy frameworks. One of those is the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development which is signed by all countries participating in EUSAIR.
On the other hand, countries are motivated to take part in other regional cooperation and it shows that regional cooperation as framework makes sense and brings results. They aim to establish networks with different topics and to connect better with other countries as well.
Another positive point is that countries are taking more participation in cultural routes which are present all over Europe. Different Balkan countries are already very active in Trans-Romanica route which passes through territories of several countries in the region.
Stefan: So, in the end, do you see bright future for sustainable tourism and joint efforts in Europe?
Cinzia: Yes, definitely. I am quite optimistic about it. Now is time to act and work together. We have to establish synergies and cooperate on different levels. There is strong circulation of information and I think that it is the right moment to start working with joint efforts. We as well need to try to avoid distances which unfortunately still exist between political and other grounds. What is needed is a “glocal” approach, to support sustainable and well balanced development of tourism and culture and, above all, to provide locally based intelligent answers for global problems.
*this interview was published in November 2017 on Travindy – a platform dedicated to the promotion and support to sustainable tourism concepts